Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Gustaw Herling-Grudziński (May 20, 1919 Kielce, Poland - July 4, 2000 Naples, Italy) was one of the greatest Polish essayists and thinkers. He is best known for writing a personal account of life in the Soviet gulag - A World Apart.
He was born in Kielce into a Jewish family. His studies of Polish literature at Warsaw University were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. During the Fall of 1939 he co-founded an underground resistance organization "Polska Ludowa Akcja Niepodległościowa, PLAN". As the organization's courier he traveled to then Soviet occupied Lvov, but was arrested in March 1940 by the NKVD and sentenced on fabricated espionage charges. Imprisoned in Vitsebsk and a gulag in Arkhangelsk region for 2 years, he was released in 1942 under the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement. He joined Gen. Wladyslaw Anders' Army (Polish II Corps) and later fought in Italy at Monte Cassino. For his valor in combat he has been decorated with the Virtuti Militari cross, Poland's highest military decoration.
In 1947 he co-founded and initially co-edited the political and cultural magazine Kultura, then published in Rome. When the magazine moved to Paris he settled first in London and finally in Naples, Italy.
He was the winner of many literary prizes: Kultura (1958), Jurzykowski (1964), Kościelskis (1966), The News (1981), the Italian Premio Viareggio prize, the international Prix Gutenberg, and French Pen-Club. In 1998 he was awarded the Order of the White Eagle.
His most famous book, A World Apart, was translated into English by Andrzej Ciolkosz and published with an introduction by Bertrand Russell in 1951 (the 2005 edition would feature an introduction by Anne Applebaum). By describing life in the gulag in a harrowing personal account, it provides an in-depth, original analysis of the nature of the Soviet communist system. Written 10 years before Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, it brought him an international acclaim but also opposition. The French translation of the book wasn't publish until 1995, the Italian one until 1994.
The selection from Journal Written at Night, a journal he was writing for 30 years, was translated by Ronald Strom and published as Volcano and Miracle (1997). A collection of his short stories The Noonday Cemetery and Other Stories, (2003) was translated by Bill Johnston.
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